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Thursday, June 04, 2020

Track and field athletes face gruelling 2022 season

The postponement of the Tokyo Olympics has resulted in a situation where the World Athletics Championships, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games will all be held between July and September.

Written by Nihal Koshie | New Delhi | Updated: April 22, 2020 8:02:04 am
Athletes participating in 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha. (Source: Reuters)

Elite Indian track and field athletes will be in for a hectic time in 2022 with three major competitions lined up one after the other over two months.

The postponement of the Tokyo Olympics has resulted in a situation where the World Athletics Championships, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games will all be held in the July-September time slot.

The Worlds, to be staged in Oregon in the United States, will be on from July 15-24, quickly followed by the CWG in Birmingham (July 27-August 7). After a brief respite, the fortnight-long Asian Games begin in Hangzhou, China from September 10.

With Indians eligible for all three events, the tight scheduling will present a challenge to the athletes, especially those like javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, who will be eyeing the podium at all three competitions.

“It will be challenging because you have three big competitions in one year and that too within two months. In my case, I hope the experience of participating in the Diamond League series (up to three competitions a month), which I have got used to, helps,” the reigning Asian Games and CWG gold medallist said.

“Diamond League competitions also take place within about a month. I have participated in about 10 competitions a year, including the Diamond League. But the schedule for 2022 calls for proper planning in terms of training if I want to peak and win medals in all three competitions.”

Preparing for the challenge

AFI president Adille Sumariwalla talked with athletes and coaches over a group video call on Monday. (Source: File Photo)

The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) is prepping its competitors to use the time off, because of the coronavirus lockdown, to stay strong. An online video call with 50 athletes and 30 coaches was arranged on Monday.

“With the Olympics 2020 being postponed to 2021 and World Championships, Asian Games and Commonwealth Games scheduled to take place in 2022, it will be a tough challenge for you all. We have to use this opportunity of delay to our advantage and you have to be mentally prepared for these challenges. With back-to-back major events planned for the next two years, we will have to adapt to single phase of competition period,” AFI president Adille Sumariwalla told athletes and coaches over the group video call.

With ‘micro-planning’ and targeted focus, Sumariwalla believes Indian athletes will be able to deal with the congested calendar two years from now.

“We have to plan correctly and look at events in which a particular athlete will focus. For some people, who don’t qualify for the World Championships, the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games will be the main focus. There are certain events in which we are strong at the Commonwealth Games and there are certain events in which we are strong at the Asian Games. Accordingly, we will have to plan and for one set of athletes the main focus will be the Asian Games, for another set it will be the Commonwealth Games. The federation’s responsibility is to plan the whole thing and give them build-up competitions and prepare schedules. And those who don’t qualify for World Championships, their training will be planned towards peaking for the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games (if the current schedule remains unchanged),” the AFI president said.

Indian athletes won 20 medals, including eight gold, at the previous edition of the Asian Games in 2018 but won only three at the Commonwealth Games and returned empty-handed from the World Championships.

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Even tougher for Europeans

The schedule is equally hectic for European athletes who will be part of the CWG. They don’t have to worry about the Asian Games but the European Championships (Munich, August 11-21) means they will have three marquee events crammed in 38 days. The continental competition in Germany starts just four days after the CWG ends.

Looking at the bright side

World Athletics president Sebastian Coe believes that the cramped schedule in 2022 will be “a bonanza for athletics fans”. (Source: File Photo)

Rather than the unprecedented demands put on the athletes, World Athletics president Sebastian Coe chose to market the summer of 2022 as a festival for the sport. “We would not have chosen to have three major championships back-to-back but it will give us a unique opportunity to promote our sport and its stars around the globe over a six-week period. This will be a bonanza for athletics fans around the world. They will be treated to six weeks of absolutely first-class athletics,” the two-time Olympic gold medallist said in a statement.

“More than 70 of our Member Federations are part of the Commonwealth and more than 50 of our Member Federations are European so our guiding principle in rescheduling the World Championships was to ensure enough space was created around the centrepiece World Athletics Championship for athletes to choose other major events to compete in. We were also very mindful that we did not want to damage the other major championships in 2022, because they are also very important to our sport.”

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A little leeway

According to multiple reports, there is a suggestion to move the athletics competitions to the second week of the CWG to give more breathing space post the World Championships.

Throw in the Olympic Games next year and the road ahead is crammed with major events. In a step to ease the pressure on athletes to qualify immediately when lockdowns are lifted, World Athletics has suspended the qualifying window for next year’s Olympics till December 1, 2020.

Schedule 2022

World Championship Oregon July 15 to July 24
Commonwealth Games Birmingham July 27 to Aug 7
European Championship Munich Aug 11 to Aug 21
Asian Games Hangzhou Sept 10 to Sept 25

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